There was disappointment and anger in equal measure at the final whistle in sun-drenched Casement Park and, unusually in a football game, it was shared by the followers of Derry and Antrim, on and off the pitch.
SEAMUS MULLAN was at Casement Park
Photographs: William Cherry (Presseye)
Derry won the game and topped the table with Donegal and Laois but missed out on promotion and a final in Croke Park, due to an inferior score difference!
Just like last season when they were relegated from Division 1 on a similarly close call Derry missed out on an instant return while Antrim not only lost the game but also their tenuous grip on Division 2 life. That was the shared disappointment!
But really these were minor irritants in comparison to the palpable anger in both camps at what happened seconds before the final whistle.
No, none of these matters were foremost in the after-match thoughts, rather the negative impact a too fussy referee had on the game, culminating in the totally unwarranted dismissals of Conleith Gilligan and Aaron Douglas in the final seconds of a one sided encounter.
It was a nothing incident, no punches thrown, two players entangled on the ground, worthy of yellow cards at worst! Indeed nobody would have batted an eyelid had the referee spoken to the players and then blown the final whistle.
His whistle-happy approach, and his haphazard interpretation of the ‘hand pass’ rule, infuriated players, management and spectators as he became the story and not the game itself.
The only consolation for the two players is that they will not miss their respective first games in the Ulster championship, as the penalty is, ‘4 weeks suspension in the same code, and at the same level, inclusive of the next game in the same competition of that competition year’.
As for the game itself Derry won comfortably against a poor Antrim side, spurning goal chances and opportunities for easy points in their inordinate wides’ tally, the Saffrons never threatening to make a game of it.
The game began with the outstanding Tomas McCann taking a pass from Terry O’Neill and pointing. Derry came back straight away when a fine Michael Friel fetch in the middle of the field, led to good interplay between Barry McGoldrick and Mark Lynch and a carefully pointed Gilligan free when P’J McCloskey was fouled.
The referee’s strange interpretation of the ‘hand pass rule’ first came into play when Paddy Bradley was penalised for what looked a perfect hand pass and Antrim profited when Kevin Brady set up McCann for a superb score. On ten minutes Derry were back on level terms, Gerard O’Kane initiating the scoring move, Caolan O’Boyle finishing it for 0-02 each.
A minute later Gilligan executed an exquisite pass to Claudy’s Martin Donaghy that drew a free, the Ballinderry marksman curling the ball between the posts from the 13 metre free.
For the next few minutes it was the good, the bad and the ugly in equal measure, as Derry’s wides tally reached seven by the midpoint of the half, a brilliantly fashioned Caolan O’Boyle goal put Derry in control at 1-04 to 0-02 and the Saffrons found themselves a player down in the 18th minute when Mark Sweeney picked up a second yellow card.
Then came an amazing passage of play as Derry strung together 17 passes as they worked the ball around the Antrim half of the pitch before Gerard O’Kane swept it over the bar for 1-05 to 0-02.
In the 24th minute Antrim coughed up possession from a free and the ball was quickly transferred inside to Gilligan who burst through on the left and blasted a left shot that was deemed to have gone wide.
Donaghy picked up a yellow card for a careless challenge on Conor Murray, Paddy Cunningham continuing the wastefulness that pockmarked the first half.
Kielt, Lynch and Gilligan then combined to get the ball to Paddy Bradley and he stroked it over the bar for 1-06 to 0-03 in the 28th minute.
Four minutes from half time Mickey Lynch played a delightful pass inside to Bradley but, with the goal at his mercy, he clipped the ball low and past the base of the post.
Mark Lynch picked up a yellow card, Michael Bateson looked bewildered when his shot was deemed to have gone the wrong side of the post.
In the final minute of the half Bradley scored from an acute angle, Terry O’Neill closing the half with a point as Derry took a 1-07 to 0-04 lead to the break.
The opening four minutes of the second half were torturous, another supposedly ‘faulty’ hand pass flagged up by the referee, some needless passing with no forward momentum and eventually another Derry wide, this time from Lynch.
Aodhan Gallagher fouled Friel at the kick out, Derry’s momentum then halted when Anto Healy was booked for a foul on O’Boyle, the free converted by Gilligan for 1-08 to 0-04.
The impressive McCann, who pointed twice in each half, cut the lead to 1-08 to 0-04 five minutes into the second period, and there was just a hint of a revival when Kevin Brady combined with midfielder Gallagher and placed McCann for his fourth point.
However Gerard O’Kane was back in deep defence to thwart a third sortie into Derry territory in as many minutes, Michael Bateson and McCloskey then getting the ball upfield to Paddy Bradley who made room before blasting the ball over the bar for 1-09 to 1-06.
Still, Antrim showed some fight with relegation beckoning and good play from Brady and Dara Edwards put Healy in on goal but Barry McGoldrick made a terrific ‘block tackle’ to deflect the ball away from the danger zone. Moments later O’Kane sent Lynch surging through the middle, the Banagher player then blasting the ball over the bar from close range.
Antrim kept picking off the odd point here and there, substitute Michael Armstrong and Paddy Cunningham from a free when Kevin McCloy was penalised closing the gap to five points midway through the half.
Another sweeping move saw Bradley take the ball from Gilligan and fist it into the path of O’Kane who drilled it accurately over the bar. In the 55th minute, Derry swept forward again and Bateson picked off a point, although it could have been a goal as Paddy Bradley was totally unmarked to Bateson’s right closer to the posts.
The impressive Murray then created a scoring chance that Gallagher took with aplomb, substitute Eoin Bradley and O’Boyle setting up Gilligan for a well taken point. Again the Saffrons responded through Mark Dougan, as did Derry when O’Kane took a pass from Barry McGoldrick to score an absolute beauty from 40m.
Another slick move involving Sean Leo McGoldrick, Eoin Bradley and Gilligan put Paddy Bradley in space and he finished with panache. A wonderful catch from McCloskey in the middle of the field set in train another passing movement that led Paddy Bradley to turn provider for Gilligan who put Derry nine points clear, 1-16 to 0-10.
The game was now like a training session, with scores coming freely and wides laced liberally into the mix as Derry finished with a grand total of 17. Paddy Cunningham was fouled and pointed the free, Paddy Bradley cancelling it out as the game entered the last five minutes. Another Cunningham pointed free was followed a fine Eoin Bradley point after a strong solo run.
Eoin Bradley forced a ‘45’ but Antrim countered from the careless free and Aodhan Gallagher landed his second point for the last score of the game in added time.
And then came the red cards for Gilligan and Douglas, the final whistle and ensuing consternation and disappointment!
Antrim scorers: Tomas McCann 0-04, Paddy Cunningham 0-04, 0-03 frees, Aodhan Gallagher 0-02, Terry O’Neill, Mark Dougan and Michael Armstrong 0-01 each
Derry scorers: Conleith Gilligan 0-06, 0-04 frees, Paddy Bradley 0-05, Caolan O’Boyle 1-01, Gerard O’Kane 0-03, Michael Bateson, Mark Lynch and Eoin Bradley 0-01 each
Antrim: Chris Kerry; Kevin O’Boyle, Ricky Johnston, Marty Johnston; Colin Brady, Conor Murray, Anto Healy; Sean Burke, Aodhan Gallagher; Terry O’Neill, Tomas McCann, Mark Sweeney; Paddy Cunningham, Kevin Brady, Brian Neeson. (Subs) Sean Finch for B Neeson 24mins; Michael Armstrong for T O’Neill 48 mins; Aaron Douglas for K O’Boyle 50mins; Mark Dougan for K Brady 51mins.
Derry: Michael Conlon; Michael Bateson, Kevin McCloy, Dermot McBride; Gerard O’Kane, Barry McGoldrick, Charlie Kielt; P.J. McCloskey, Michael Friel; Mark Lynch, Caolan O’Boyle, Martin Donaghy; Sean Leo McGoldrick, Paddy Bradley, Conleith Gilligan. (Subs) Ciaran McGoldrick for M Donaghy 43mins; Eoin Bradley for M Friel 53mins; Lee Moore for Caolan O’Boyle 57 mins; Joe O’Kane for K McCloy 60mins; Declan Mullan for M Lynch 68mins.
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)